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A Different Sort of Summer Research Trip

Have you ever visited the Pawnee National Grassland in Colorado? The web link to their page on the National Forest Service site is too long to display here, but you can find information easily by doing a web search.

We visited the Grassland with some of our young grandchildren for a camping trip over the weekend. There we found a nice, shady campsite along Crow Creek, short hiking trails suitable for kids, and even a display of old farm implements used by homesteaders.

The grassland lies in northeastern Colorado, near the Nebraska and Wyoming borders. Thus, my Riddle and Reed ancestors had homesteads just across the state lines of those two states. Visiting the Pawnee National Grassland gave me an idea of what those homesteading experiences might have been like. The Forest Service has put up several interpretive signs that helped me understand the history and geography of the area:

  • We learned that fur trappers worked along Crow Creek, cowboys drove cattle along a trail running between Montana and Texas, and settlers followed the Overland Trail along the South Platte River. My own later-arriving ancestors homesteaded in Nebraska in the 1880’s and Wyoming during World War I, so I assume they came west by train.
  • The prairie sees extreme temperatures. We endured a hot summer weekend with the thermometer reaching into the upper 90’s, just as my ancestors did.
  • We saw birds. Boy, did we see birds. The Pawnee National Grassland is a well-known bird-watching area, and we saw our first lark bunting—the Colorado state bird. Okay, perhaps we have seen them before but did not know what they were.

The grandchildren particularly liked the short prairie grass. They loved tramping about in the knee-high greenery. I tried to view it more as my homesteading ancestors must have, seeing what would have been quite a challenge to replace using the primitive farming equipment we saw at the campground.

The Grassland provided a spot for a great camping trip. We loved the opportunity to spend some time with the next generation. I got a renewed appreciation for the hardships my ancestors (both single women!) faced in coming to this part of the country. Although this was not the research trip to a repository or cemetery that I usually take, it had value of its own. It gave me a much better sense of my family’s journey.

 

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